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Judged by modern Western standards, the treatment of women by men in Homer's Odyssey can be characterized as sexist. Women in Homer's Odyssey are judged mainly by their looks. If important men and gods consider a woman beautiful, or if her son or husband is a hero or has an important position such as king, the woman is successful. The way women in The Odyssey are treated is based on appearance, the things men want from them, and whether the woman has any power over men. During Odysseus' journey to the underworld he sees many different types of women. We hear about their beauty, their important sons, or their affairs with gods. We hear nothing about these women's accomplishments in their lifetime. Odysseus tells how Antiope could "boast a god for a lover,"(193) as could Tyro and many other women. Epikaste was called "that prize"(195) her own son unwittingly married.
Some women are known for the deeds of their sons or husbands, but never for a heroic deed of their own, their personalities, and what they do themselves. It seems the only accomplishment women could achieve was being beautiful. Theseus "had no joy of"(195) the princess Ariadne because she died before this was possible. Homer makes it sound as if Ariadne's life was useless because she did not give Theseus pleasure. The only woman we hear of for a different reason is Klymene, and we only hear of her because she "betrayed her lord for gold."(195) This is the only time we hear of a woman for something she did, and once we do, it is a negative remark. Penelope, Odysseus' queen, is paid attention to only because of her position. Because she has a kingdom, she has suitors crowding around her day and night. Being a woman, Penelope has no control over what the suitors do and cannot get rid of them. The suitors want her wealth and her kingdom. They do not respect her enough to stop feeding on Odysseus' wealth; they feel she owes them something because she won't marry one of them. One of the suitors, Antinoos, tells Telemakhos "...but you should know the suitors are not to blame- it is your own incomparably cunning mother."(21) Even Telemakhos doesn't respect his mother as he should. When the song of a minstrel makes her sad and Penelope requests him to stop playing, Telemakhos interrupts and says to her, "Mother, why do you grudge our own dear minstrel joy of song, wherever his thought may lead.
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Through Penelope, Homer shows how an ideal wife should feel toward her husband. Penelope remembers Odysseus as a great king and husband even though he has been gone for twenty years. Odysseus thinks of Penelope as his wife who, under all conditions, should be faithful to him no matter how many times he has been unfaithful or how long he has been gone, and Penelope fulfills this wish.
Athena seems to be the most admired female in the entire book. She is always spoken of respectfully and is remembered for her heroic deeds. She is not degraded like many of the other women Odysseus sees in the underworld. Everyone worships her and speaks about her achievements with great admiration; she is truly admired, but only because she is a goddess. Athena has control over men that most women in The Odyssey do not. Women's lives depend on what men think of them. On the other hand, men's lives depend on Athena's opinion of them. Athena is "Zeus' virgin daughter" and no one has used her in that way. She is too important to be used as being enjoyment for men; they depend on her for their own welfare.
Another woman that plays a big role in this epic is Calypso. Calypso is a nymph, a child of Zeus, and lives on an island in the middle of the ocean. One day a man named Odysseus is sent to her by the god of the sea, Poseidon, because Poseidon was mad because Odysseus had blinded his son, the Cyclops. It is on this island that another woman is used as a sexual toy and is not thought of for her own achievements, but rather for her beauty, and the fact that she is the daughter of Zeus.
Men in The Odyssey only value women who they can use for physical needs and wealth, such as the women in the underworld that Odysseys encounters, and Penelope. Homer shows us how men in The Odyssey consider women less important than men. We rarely hear of women throughout the book. When we do, we are shown that men did not consider women important and are careless with their relationships with women, as we see in Odysseus' relationship with Penelope.
While Odysseus expected Penelope to stay faithful even after he was gone for twenty years and was unfaithful to her many times, through his relationship with Calypso. But today women are able to have accomplishments other than those of Penelope and the other woman Odysseus encountered in the underworld; they have the same opportunities and are treated as equals by men.